R.I. AG Opposes Blues Wellness Unit as Potential ‘Big Brother’

July 20, 2005

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch wants to block the state’s largest health insurer from starting a market research subsidiary, saying Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island could use such information to increase subscribers’ premiums.

In a petition to the state health insurance commissioner, Lynch argued that the nonprofit insurance company lacked authority to form a for-profit “wellness institute.”

He also said he was concerned that Blue Cross would use subscribers’ answers to questions about their diet and exercise habits to set their insurance premium rates.

The proposal “creates the potential for Blue Cross to act as Big Brother, in determining whether or not their subscribers can get access to needed health care,” Lynch wrote.

The attorney general’s petition, filed with Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller, seeks a declaratory ruling on whether Blue Cross can operate the health and wellness institute.

The institute is trying to promote healthier behavior that could lead to lower health care costs, Blue Cross said.

“In the bigger picture, this is about lowering the cost of health care,” spokeswoman Kim Keough said.

Keough echoed Lynch’s desire for a declaratory ruling, saying Blue Cross wanted to “move forward.”

Blue Cross plans to use a bank loan, and not subscribers’ premiums, to finance the wellness institute, Keough said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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